Action needed to tackle our growing waistlines- Chief Medical Officer

Launching her second annual report, Ruth Hussey outlines the steps the nation needs to take to address the population’s health problems, including growing waistlines, which is a major factor in many chronic health conditions.

Her report highlights that over a quarter of children aged four to five are overweight or obese, while 22% of adults are obese. Obesity levels are higher in more deprived areas. A ban on junk food advertising on TV and the internet could help tackle obesity among children, that’s according to the Chief Medical Officer of Wales.

Dr Hussey also says that a minimum unit price of 50p per unit in Wales will help address alcohol misuse. Evidence shows that the price of alcohol matters and as the affordability of alcohol has increased substantially in recent decades, alcohol-related death and disease has also risen.

The Chief Medical Officer welcomes the progress made in cutting smoking levels in Wales with the percentage of adults who smoke falling from 23% to 21% between 2012 and 2013. This Welsh Government is committed to building on this progress with plans to ban smoking in cars carrying children. She also wants to see more emphasis on being physically active – it is essential for good health and wellbeing.

The combination of adopting four healthy lifestyles would make a significant improvement to health in Wales.(Not smoking, Not drinking above guidelines, Eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetable a day, Being physically active on at least five days a week).

The report highlights adult health behaviour in 2013, including:

•42% drank above daily guidelines the previous week.

•26% binge drank (twice daily guidelines) the previous week.

•67% ate fewer than five portions fruit and vegetables the previous day.

•34% not physically active any day the previous week.

•58% overweight or obese.

•22% obese.

Other findings include:

•The population of Wales is continuing to live longer with life expectancy for men at 78.2 years and 82.2 for women.

•There are now more older people than children in Wales, with 18 per cent of the population aged under 16 and 19 per cent aged 65 and over.

•Avoidable mortality has all fallen year-by-year in Wales since 2001.

•Most adults in Wales report good general health. In 2013, 80 per cent did so, although a third of adults (33 per cent) also reported that their daily activities were limited by long lasting health problems or disability.

Ruth Hussey said:

“My annual report is Wales’ annual check-up, giving us a picture of our health and what we need to do to improve it. There is no escaping the fact that too many of us don’t do enough to look after our health.

“Growing obesity is something we all need to face. It is a major factor in many chronic health conditions, from type 2 diabetes to cardiovascular disease. It costs the Welsh NHS £73 million a year. Obesity also affects the most disadvantaged.

“People are eating more processed food and junk food. Sugar is often hidden within processed foods and provides no nutritional value. The advertising industry is very powerful at influencing children in particular to eat unhealthy foods. One measure that could work well to curb this influence would be to restrict  all junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed, so that children would be less susceptible to junk food marketing. A ban on junk food advertisements at all times should be extended to internet ‘on demand’ services too. I would welcome any moves at a UK level in this direction.

“Despite encouraging signs of smoking rates decreasing to 21 per cent, the pattern of smoking remains strongly skewed towards the more disadvantaged communities. It is vital we as a society tackle the root causes of poor health. We need to focus relentlessly on prevention, quality of health care and to bring closer together our efforts to reduce poor health and poverty. Those aims remain at the forefront of my advice.”